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The public’s message in new poll: Keep your hands off the Human Rights Act

A poll we commissioned on attitudes to human rights in the UK made for happy reading. The top line was this; there really is no appetite to repeal the Human Rights Act among the British public.

The findings come ahead of the government’s long-threatened consultation on repealing the Human Rights Act with a view to replacing it with a ‘British Bill of Rights’, and hopefully will be food for thought for Justice Secretary Michael Gove and Prime Minister David Cameron.

The consultation is apparently due in the ‘late autumn’ - a measurement of time most often the reserve of farms and pizzerias - so any day now it seems.

We don’t know a great deal about what it will look like, whether there will be a draft Bill for consideration, or perhaps just an invitation to feed-in views, but we do now know that it is definitely not something the public are chomping at the bit for.

Indeed, it is virtually at the bottom of the list of the public’s concerns.

Just 3% of people said that repealing the Human Rights Act should be the top priority for the government, with only 11% even listing it in their top three concerns.

A relief, of course, for all of us who want to see this valuable safety net for the vulnerable kept in place. It also apparently chimes with the government’s own findings.

At this year’s Conservative party conference, it was revealed that the party’s own election strategist Lynton Crosby had ruled the issue should be given a low billing in the election campaign after their research found that just 16% of people identified human rights changes as a priority.

We also wanted to test whether the component parts of the Human Rights Act had popular support. One of the big challenges in confronting threats to the Act over recent years, and one of the most frightening aspects of some of the debate, has been the idea that some people have forfeited their human rights, that there are the worthy, and the unworthy.

The founding principle of human rights, of course, is that the universality of human rights is sacrosanct. That they apply to everyone equally just by virtue of everyone being human.

Reassuring, then, that 78% of people agreed that rights need to apply to everybody equally in order to work at all. That includes people whose views or actions we might profoundly disagree with of course.

Human rights were not intended to be transient, or temporary. They were intended to be enduring – and all the more vital in challenging times.

We need to recall people to this core belief, which is surely at the centre of our value system, when faced with unpleasant characters.

We also offered a list of the 16 (yes just 16) protections contained in the Human Rights Act – things like the right not to be tortured, or the right to a fair trial, or the right to education and guess what, most people wanted to keep all of those rights in any new Bill.

Nearly half of people (46%) said keep them all, but actually there was no cluster around any of the one rights for removal, with no more than 9% of respondents voting for the removal of any single one.

With the exception of the death penalty, which 16% of people would consider reintroducing.

Disappointing, but not altogether surprising, and generally at odds with what most people think. In any event, the headline finding is this – most people say keep all of the rights, and when you read them all in a list they seem like the least of what we should all expect.

One of the other key findings of the research, was that 67% of people said that politicians should not be allowed to pick and choose which rights we are entitled too. Indeed they should not.

It should not be up to the government of the day to redraft, recast or remove human rights protections. They are not in the gift of politicians to bestow.

It took ordinary people a long time to fight for these rights over previous generations and we should not allow politicians to take them away with the stroke of a pen.

Repealing the Human Rights Act, would be a step backwards.

It would be to send a message to the world that rights are impermanent. I would go so far as to say that such a move could be dangerous, that it could threaten to unravel human rights progress around the world.

We are determined to oppose such moves, and according to the findings of the poll it seems that the majority of the people of Britain will be standing with us.

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About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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